How Good are Political Polls in 2016?
Modern polling has move from the telephone to the Internet.
The reason is that many people no longer have telephones. The second is that even when called on their landline or cell phones, a huge percentage (as high as 80% and above) are no longer willing to answer polls.
Since a huge percentage of Americans have Internet access and are on the many social media as well as voluntarily answer online polls, Internet polling has become a significant and more relevant piece of the modern political polling.
Internet polling also allows for a much quicker cycle of tracking polls at lower cost. For example, the Paris terrorist attack overnight required new polling on 2016 presidential contenders since it was probably a “game changer.”
Some of the best Internet polls actual use samples from panels of carefully screened respondents.
One very interesting development regards Donald Trump. Pollster
“ … online polls favor one candidate. Ever since Mr. Trump rose in the polls, he has fared best in the online ones — sometimes by as much as 10 points better than live-interview telephone surveys conducted over the same period.
There are a number of possible explanations for Mr. Trump’s strength in online polling, which was first noted by Jonathan Robinson, an analyst for Catalist, a data firm associated with the Democratic Party.
One is that voters are likelier to acknowledge their support for Mr. Trump in an anonymous online survey than in an interview with a real person. Plenty of research suggests that the social acceptability of an opinion shapes the willingness of poll respondents to divulge it, and it’s imaginable that voters would be reluctant to acknowledge support for a controversial figure like Mr. Trump.”
In the Iowa State University "traditional" scientific poll Donald Trump comes in fourth after "Undecided." Ben Carson has support from 27.2 percent, Marco Rubio is second with 16.7 percent; undecided voters are third, making up 16.2 percent; and Donald Trump is fourth with only 14.7 percent
It is true that online polls under represent minorities and lower income and education voters. However these groups are also much less likely to vote so the accuracy of the Internet polls such as SurveyMonkey, Reuters/Ipsos, Morning Consult, YouGov/CBS News may be a life saver for the declining traditional polling by phone or with clipboards at the mall.
Internet polling is still young and it will take several political cycles before the validity of these surveys is demonstrated. It will also take a few more years for the methodology and sampling algorithms to be refined. In the meantime we should watch polling results with care and be “critical consumers.” Remember that is a poll says 34% say they would support Donald Trump and 52% Hillary Clinton we cannot refute the validity of those polls until the caucuses results are in on the night of February 1. Also remember that surveys are most accurate minutes after they are completed. Most polls have a very short shelf life.
Steffen Schmidt is University Professor of Political Science at Iowa State University and CEO of SEAS LLC Consulting.